Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

JUDITH LECLAIR & ROBERT WALTERS continue the Masters Festival at Hidden Valley. SHAWN COLVIN sings her songs at the Rio. FIELDS OF EDEN (above, photo by Julia Brandt) plays Barmel in Carmel on Saturday. SAXOPHONIST GARY MEEK joins pianist Eddie Mendenhall, Skylar Campbell on drums, bassist Dan Robbins and Akili Bradley’s trumpet at Kuumbwa on Thursday. ‘SWEET JAZZ AT EMBASSY’ monthly last-Sunday jazz jam, Embassy Suites, Seaside. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG opens at PacRep. THE SECRET GARDEN opens at The Western Stage. For links to these and other live performance events, click our CALENDAR or on the ads, left.

“LOIS MAYOL is a visionary supporter of our region’s most prestigious classical music organizations, the founding adviser for the Music for All Monterey County Alliance and our region’s leading advocate for restoring music education for every student,” writes Paulette Lynch of the Arts Council for Monterey County. “She and her late husband Don were named Champions of the Arts: Philanthropists in 2017 for their many years of leadership and generous support for music organizations in Monterey County and for the Music for All Monterey County campaigns.” Click the Music for All icon, left. (Photo by Richard Green.)

STRENGTHENING ARTS MANAGEMENT

BLOOMBERG PHILANTHROPIES at work in American cities support innovation and management.

2018 CABRILLO FESTIVAL’S SEVEN FEMALE COMPOSERS

THEY JOIN TEN male composers. Worldwide, 95 percent of classical concerts feature only male composers. Click HERE  

SECRETS OF IMPROVISATION

ART IN AN INSTANT. How do jazz musicians, rappers and comedians make it up on the fly? Click HERE

SOMETHING DOESN’T ADD UP

BEETHOVEN’S 9TH SYMPHONY determined the 80 minute limit to the original CD capacity. Yet conductor Ben Zander claims that most performances last 100 minutes and that he is performing it as it should be, in 80 minutes. Click HERE  

ANGELA GHEORGHIU SINGS IN BUCHAREST

FROM SEPT 2017, she was paid 145,000 euros ($168,000) for this single concert

THE INTERTRAGIC NOTCH

THE PASSIONATE PILGRIM, William Jaggard’s 1599 collection of 20 poems attributed to Shakespeare, only very few of which were written by the Bard, according to various critics. Only two of the collection are verifiably by Shakespeare, “When my love swears” and “Two loves I have,” though only the first made its way into this recorded collection of 13 of the poems. Arranged as songs by Doug Balliett, Elliot Cole and Majel Connery, they make use of two ensembles, Oracle Hysterical (bassoon, double bass, viola da gamba and Peruvian cajon) and New Vintage Baroque (baroque-style oboe, flutes, violins, viola da gamba, cello, bassoon, theorbo and guitar,) in a “baroque-pop with classical avant-garde” concoction. Connery, a mezzo, and Cole, a baritone, sing the words alone and in duos. Their energy is as irresistible as the instrumental arrangements are savory. “Live with me and be my love,” begins with Balliett’s bassoon playing multiphonics, a strange effect for a seduction song. Connery opens the CD with the sunshine of “Beauty is” and a voice “that keeps its poise between art song and a wistful, wise-too-late cabaret lilt,” say the program notes. “Fair is my love” drives with a rock beat but still sounds baroque. More multiphonics and heavy drone in “When as thine eye,” a rap-song of unexpected delight. “My flocks feede not” draws out vocal quarter tones. “Scarce had the sunne (Why was not I a flood?)” invokes that growling bassoon again. “If Musicke” is right out of the Swing Era. This album is quite a treat, highly original, often danceable anbeyond any common category. SM  

LOST JOHN COLTRANE RECORDING FROM 1963

IT WILL FINALLY be released. You can hear one track when you click HERE  

FILS DE…

JACQUES BREL, French lyricist/singer, music by Gerard Jouannest, in the 1970s.

SONS OF…

English lyrics by Mort Shuman and Eric Blau. JUDY COLLINS in 1976, arranged by Joshua Rifkin

NEXT WEEK

MONTEREY INTERNATIONAL BLUES FESTIVAL. CABRILLO STAGE opens Rent. ANI DiFRANCO sings her songs at the Rio. EMIL KHUDYEV clarinet recital at Hidden Valley.    

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

PAUL CONTOS and friends play jazz at the Cherry Center. TENOR TYLER FARR comes to Monterey. THE KINGSTON TRIO returns to Santa Cruz. BANDS ON THE BEACH (above) starts up at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with Berlin starring Terri Nunn. SPECTORDANCE SCHOOL performs Peter & the Wolf and scenes from Swan Lake. For links to these and other live performance events, click our CALENDAR or on the ads, left.

YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC

“WHAT PART of the brain lights up when we learn music? The whole brain! When music is a core subject, youth are more engaged, more connected, more motivated overall and more likely to graduate on time,” says Paulette Lynch of the Arts Council for Monterey County. District officials are finalizing their plans and budgets now. For a complete toolkit, including links to every county school district and school board member, visit the Arts Council website HERE  For a directory of Monterey County public school districts, click HERE   

FARKHAD KHUDYEV WINS CAREER GRANT

MUSIC DIRECTOR at Hidden Valley and Youth Music Monterey County won third prize at the International Georg Solti conducting Competition in February 2017. The Solti Foundation has just announced its eight Career Assistance Award grantees for 2018, to one woman and seven men, including three from California. The largest prize the Solti awards annually is $30,000 “Solti Fellow.” A past recipient of that big one is Cabrillo Festival MD Cristian Măcelaru.   

MONTEREY COUNTY THEATRE ALLIANCE EVENT

MCTA EXECUTIVE Andrea McDonald has announced a panel discussion about theater tech, an activity associated with their new Program, “Hands-On Technical Theatre Workshops.” MCTA is accepting applications from individuals, 16 years old to seniors, to work with experienced professionals behind-the-scenes, before and during live performances. The event is open to the public on June 27, 1-3pm, at the Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby, Seaside. For more information, click HERE  

AMERICAN CONSERVATORY THEATER’S NEW EXECUTIVE

JENNIFER BIELSTEIN of Guthrie will replace retiring Peter Pastreich in the San Francisco post. Click HERE   

“FAMOUS FATHER GIRL”

JAMIE BERNSTEIN’S memoir of “growing up Bernstein.” It will fascinate you and make you squirm. Click HERE  

HOW THE CIA FUNDED SMEARS OF SHOSTAKOVICH

JOE HOROWITZ reports. Click HERE  

THE INTERTRAGIC NOTCH

JOE HAYDN NEVER ceases to amaze me. His sheer output and always-surprising originality boggle my mind. (The only category which has not exported well is his vast corpus of operas, and they are never less than good.) Here again, in five “sonatas for keyboard accompanied by violin and cello,” the composer’s imagination sizzles. They date from between 1790 and 1795, the period when his best friend WA Mozart was sinking into death. Indeed, the Trio in F-sharp Minor, a key Haydn visited infrequently, contains an adagio-cantabile central movement of such exquisite tenderness that he recycled it into his Symphony 102, even at the expense of its intimacy. Trio Wanderer takes the movement in character with all the slow movements in this collection. (By comparison the famed Beaux Arts Trio broadened it out with an extra layer of “sentiment.”) If he had Mozart in mind, he dedicated it to a female piano pupil. One must remember that Haydn never wears his heart on his sleeve. Even his minor key music is ultimately cheerful and nearly always witty. But now in his 60s, he allowed himself moments of thoughtful reflection. But then the finale of the Trio in A is a laugh-out-loud steeplechase of good fun. The French Trio Wanderer, who made this recording in January 2017 in Berlin, displays their versatility of style, having recorded trios, and, with guests, a repertoire from Beethoven to Shostakovich, including a great discography of French repertoire, some quite rare. SM   

THANKS TO the Carmel Music Society we’ve gotten to know Anne-Marie McDermott as the touring partner of uniquely-gifted violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. But as this new Bridge release makes clear McDermott is an outstanding solo artist on her own terms, and she can be just as witty as the composer himself, and apparently takes joy in being coy. At least she gave me the giggles. This CD also made me want to collect her Haydn Sonatas, Vol 1. The big work here is the 28-minute Sonata in A-flat from 1760, early in the composer’s long service at the Esterházy court. He called it a ‘divertimento’ but it’s far more meaty than that word suggests and stands among his finest for solo keyboard. Its 13-minute slow movement, adagio, is in the key of D-flat, a real oddity at the time. The other three sonatas range from 12 to 16 minutes performance time. The sonata in C was published by Breitkopf in 1789. The sonatas in G and D date from around 1780. The sonata in D, which bursts out of the gate like a yearling thoroughbred whose nervous system is still adolescent. It’s followed by a short, three-minute largo that is all dark grandeur, as ominous as anything by Haydn I have ever heard. Then suddenly a presto sonata-rondo. Thanks to McDermott and a few others, Haydn’s piano sonatas are getting more play and the respect they deserve. SM 

DANCING BERLIOZ’ SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE UNDER WATER

DESIGNED BY puppeteer Basil Twist. Angelica Frey reports. Click HERE 

WHEN HEAVY METAL MEETS MARIACHI

METALACHI same instruments, different rhythms

FRESH REVIEWS

HARTNELL COMMUNITY CHOIR, oboist ELAINE DOUVAS. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

JUDITH LECLAIR & ROBERT WALTERS continue the Masters Festival at Hidden Valley. SHAWN COLVIN at the Rio. SAXOPHONIST GARY MEEK plays Kuumbwa. FIELDS OF EDEN play Carmel.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor